Former top US military official: don’t invade Venezuela

Retired Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser says he doesn’t see a good reason to use the military to oust Maduro.

By Alex Ward



President Donald Trump once openly considered a “military option” to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro — and now that the US has officially called on Maduro to step down amid massive protests against his rule, Trump says that option is back on the table.

But according to a former top US military official, it probably shouldn’t be. The Pentagon’s former top official in charge of overseeing South American operations says there is no “good reason” for the US military to intervene in Venezuela right now.

The country is currently in the grip of a potentially explosive political standoff between two men who both claim to be the legitimate president of Venezuela: Maduro, who was reelected president in May 2018; and opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

Guaidó claims the 2018 election was rigged and that he, as the head of the National Assembly (the country’s legislative body), is now the rightful president according to the country’s constitution.

On Wednesday, Trump officially recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president and called Maduro’s claim to the presidency “illegitimate.” But Maduro has responded with defiance and has so far shown no sign of stepping down anytime soon.

That led reporters soon afterward to ask Trump if he might send US troops into Venezuela to remove Maduro from power. “We’re not considering anything,” Trump responded, “but all options are on the table.”

But retired Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, who from June 2009 to November 2012 led US Southern Command — the part of the Defense Department responsible for overseeing Central and South America and the Caribbean — told me that US military intervention is the wrong course of action right now.

“I don’t see a good reason for the military to be employed in this situation,” he said.

Here’s why he thinks that, and why the Trump administration should prioritize other options instead.

Why a military option isn’t a good idea right now

Maduro still has control and the backing of major institutions in his country — including the military. On Thursday, Venezuela’s armed forces said they support their Maduro and will stop any coup attempts against him.

That means that any US military action aimed at toppling Maduro would likely be met with stiff resistance from the 515,000-strong Venezuelan military.

What’s more, even if the US military did succeed in toppling Maduro, the country would almost certainly be in a much worse state after even the most limited war — and Venezuela is already suffering from a dire humanitarian catastrophe caused by an economic collapse over the past several years.

That could pressure the US military to stay in the country long enough to stabilize it — potentially leading to yet another open-ended US military commitment abroad. (See: the Iraq War and the war in Afghanistan.)

Instead, Fraser said, the US would be better off working with regional allies and partners to alleviate some of the suffering in and around Venezuela. Most of the country lives in poverty and lacks access to even the most basic things needed for survival. That has led millions to flee to Colombia and other nearby countries to escape the misery.

Fraser did acknowledge that the US military should still look into what it would take to invade Venezuela just in case Trump does call for such a plan. “It might be worthwhile to just understand what the implications and requirements would be,” he told me. “That’s only prudent planning in case the president decides that’s an option he wants.”

But he doesn’t think Trump should choose that option anytime soon. “I don’t see the benefit of a direct military engagement,” he told me.

So for now, perhaps Trump should take that option off the table.


Venezuela cuts US ties citing its support for ‘coup’ attempt


24 Jan 2019

Venezuela‘s  leader Nicolas Maduro severed relations with the United States and ordered American diplomats out of the country, accusing Washington of orchestrating a coup d’etat after an opposition leader publicly announced he was now president. In a televised broadcast from the presidential palace late on Wednesday, Maduro accused the opposition of seeking to stage a coup with the support of the US, which he said was seeking to govern Venezuela from Washington.

“We’ve had enough interventionism, here we have dignity, damn it,” said an angry Maduro.

“Here is a people willing to defend this land,” said the beleaguered leader, flanked by top Socialist Party officials as riot police clashed with opposition supporters in the capital.

Earlier on Wednesday, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president in an address to tens of thousands of people on the streets of Caracas.

Maduro attends a rally in support of his government on Wednesday [Miraflores Palace handout via Reuters]

Venezuela’s constitution says if the presidency is determined to be vacant, new elections should be called in 30 days and the head of the congress should assume the presidency in the meantime. However, its Supreme Court has ruled all actions taken by the National Assembly congress are null and void, and the government has jailed dozens of opposition leaders and activists for seeking to overthrow Maduro through violent street demonstrations in 2014 and 2017.

What now?

On Thursday, attention will shift to Washington where diplomats at the Organization of American States will hold an emergency meeting on the Venezuelan situation. The debate promises to be charged, and the National Assembly’s newly picked diplomatic envoy will be lobbying to take Venezuela’s seat from Maduro’s ambassador.

Meanwhile, many Venezuelans will be looking for Guaido to re-emerge and provide guidance on the opposition’s next steps.

The armed forces’ top command is also expected to issue a statement, although nobody expects the generals’ loyalties to Maduro to have shifted.

“While it’s true that Guaido has been recognised internationally, the real power of the state is still in the hands of Nicolas Maduro,” said Ronal Rodriguez, a political science professor who focuses on Venezuela at Rosario University in Bogota.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies



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